Palm Beach County is not Wisconsin

On Tuesday, a sea of yellow shirts packed the commission chambers. None of the shirt wearers, who are members of IAFF local 2928 as well as employees of County Fire Rescue, took the podium to speak. That wasn’t why they were there. As acting union President Ricky Grau spoke in favor of “three men on a truck” and accused the county of understating the amount of reserves they have to spend, the sea of yellow shirts were there to send a not so subtle message to the commissioners.

What was the issue that brought out the troops? They objected to the action taken by Chief Steve Jerauld and Fire Rescue leadership in April to reduce the staffing on some EMS vehicles from three to two under some circumstances. This has reduced the amount of paid overtime. The Chief has assured the Commissioners and the public that in no way had public safety been compromised by this move. The savings are estimated to be $7.8M per year. Although no vote was taken, and only Karen Marcus and Burt Aaronson spoke strongly in favor of restoring the three man crews, staff took that as marching orders and agreed to spend the extra money.

None of this discussion involves any increase in millage or other revenue enhancement, and we believe that drawing down “excessive” reserves – stipulated by all sides to be “at least” $50M is the right thing to do. We also agree with Commissioner Marcus that IF the county policy is indeed “three men/women on a truck”, then it makes more operational and fiscal sense to fully staff the positions rather than paying overtime to a reduced staff. But should a bona fide attempt by the Chief to save taxpayer money by increasing efficiency at no risk to public safety be so quickly rebuffed?

The IAFF is a political force in the county and elected officials cross them at their own risk. The Fire Rescue collective bargaining agreement expired last September and they are currently working without a contract after a year of “negotiations” that led nowhere. Both sides (to their credit) were not suggesting pay increases in this economy, yet a county proposal for a 22% reduction in starting salary for new hires was never even acknowledged by the union. To see the Commissioners buckle over a truck staffing rule before the yellow shirted troops does not bode well for any substantive discussions in the future.

Fire Rescue funding is headed for a showdown when the reserves can no longer be tapped. As some cities are near their millage caps, the Fire Rescue millage has been flat since 2010 and revenue has trended down with property valuations. Spending on the other hand, mostly driven by escalating personal service costs built into the existing contract, contines to rise. Something has to give. We think the overly generous pay and benefits (compared to Fire Rescue national averages) need to be addressed. That is not likely in the game plan though and it would not surprise us to hear more talk of sales tax surcharges in the years to come.

Wisconsin was a wake up call to the public employee unions. Perhaps some of Governor Walker’s courage will rub off on our elected officals too.

For the Palm Beach Post editorial on the subject by Andrew Marra, see: Fire-Rescue headed for a financial emergency


5 Responses to “Palm Beach County is not Wisconsin”
  1. Pam Wohlschlegel says:

    I would like to see the County Commissioners follow the lead of US Congressmen who have proposed HR2188 that will implement Lean Six Sigma. This is a program with an objective of 100% fiscal responsibility by eliminating waste and is based on the efforts of Strong America Now.

  2. Joe says:

    How about the wealthy “elite” and corporations pay their fair share. Fire Rescue is way busier with the abuse of 911, and they’ve eliminated almost 200 positions. It’s obvious that this site and the tea party’s agenda is tied closely with the G.O.P. and class warfare. Let’s be honest, the Republicans (tea party) want a nation of employees similar to Walmart. Low salaries, no benefits (retirement plan and medical insurance). The “elite” won’t be happy until all workers take a huge cut in pay and benefits, as they ask for and lobby for more tax breaks. This country is doomed, and the Republicans (G.O.P.) made it happen. You don’t care if people are starving in the streets with no medical protection, but don’t have a problem spreading your agenda around the world, feeding and taking care of foreigners while abandoning your own. Sad.

  3. Joe says:

    To recap…….

    The $35 Million Campaign
    So, the $35 million shortfall campaign by our administration began. Next, the administration began the Friday videos that nobody was watching. Because of this, we all got the management memo that said, that it was mandatory to watch the Chief Jerauld and Deputy Chief Beesley Friday Videos. With each video came another message of how broke we are. Then we actually had an officers’ forum to inform them that we’re $35 million short. This came fully equipped with all the fast talk, fancy graphs, and charts. Then, as if the SEAR Committee didn’t give enough data 2 years ago… the Administration assembled another committee to cut our benefits further. This committee was formed while negotiations were ongoing resulting in ever-changing positions. Again we say… TRUST BUT VERIFY.

    Mixed Signal
    Somehow the $35 million shortfall message continues to be distorted. Every vacancy in our Administration has been filled from our Frontlines over and over again. We have all seen the purchases:
    • NEW IT equipment and Consultants
    • New Vehicles for Administration
    • New LIFEPAK monitors
    • MUM dispatch module
    • Tele-Staff
    • New Rescues and Engines
    • PowerDMS Email (did Outlook break?)
    • Remodels and rebuilt stations
    • Take-home vehicles
    • Training: From 1984 until 2009, we trained at the station level; both South Tech and the college provided courses and the department granted tuition reimbursement. We had a few people in Training for recruit classes we were hiring. So if we are broke, why do we continue to take 7+ units a day out of service and have them drive (fuel cost) 30 miles to training? Why are we hiring 30 part-time instructors?
    • Initiation of CQI division: A division that checks reports and does Research and Development with frontline firefighters, paramedics, and commanders that could be utilized on the frontlines protecting lives.

    This has been the same story for 3 years. It is unfortunate that our Administration has now taken to the media to try to work us over, all the while sticking to the $35 million shortfall when they themselves openly say we are not $35 million short. This willingness to misguide us, our members, the commission, and the public is BOLD.

    • PBCTAB says:

      First I have heard that benefits were cut (other than state changes to FRS). Could you list what employee benefits have been cut?

      • Maria says:

        They have cut no benefits, they are going to get a raise and it’s not enough for them you should check out PBSOTalk.com and look under fires rescue contract..

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